The Sole Society, a Family History Society researching Sole, Saul, Sewell, Solley and similar names

My Search for the Roots of the SOLES Family

by Bill Soles

This article was originally published in the July 1993 edition of Soul Search, the journal of The Sole Society

In my early life I had very little interest in family history, but an incident in 1963 changed all that. My father gave me a few items of my Grandmothers: it was in her old purse that I found a newspaper cutting from the 1884 Woburn Times, published in the USA. This reported the life and death of Edward Oscar SOLES, who landed in New York in April 1842, and left a brother in Birmingham, England. My curiosity was at once aroused.

It appeared that Edward survived the six­week Atlantic crossing in a seventy‑foot Schooner, and made his way as a successful business man and a highly respected citizen of Woburn. Was he a member of my family? How did this newspaper cutting come into the possession of my Grandmother? No one knew the answers. A letter to the editor of the Woburn Times started me on a family history trail that has lasted on and off for 28 years.

My enquiry was rewarded with a letter from Geraldine Soles, the Head of Department of Social Studies at a local High School, and a descendant of the original settler. Geraldine had the complete family history of the SOLES family from the day Edward Oscar Soles landed in New York, but almost nothing was known of his family history in England.

I was unable to make a serious start on my family research until my retirement in 1979, but then, with the aid of my son Martin, I searched the records in London of births, marriages and deaths, extracting every Soles name. It is a pity I did not extract SOULs, SOLEs, etc. Fortunately, SOLES is a fairly uncommon name; I found all my relatives, including my great­great‑grandfather William Soles who died in 1838, a wire drawer by trade.

The American connection told me that Edward Oscar's father was employed in the engineering industry in Birmingham and had been sent by his employers to install machinery in North Wales, and that Edward Oscar came from North Wales to Birmingham as a young boy. Was he born in North Wales, and was he the son of my great‑great‑grandfather William? Perhaps William, as a wire drawer, had been sent to North Wales to install wire drawing machinery, so I had to search for a wire drawing mill in North Wales for the period 1820‑1824. A study of the Industrial History of North Wales revealed a wire drawing mill near Wrexham, and a search of the Parish Registers showed Edward Ridler Soles and William Soles born in 1824 and 1823 respectively, to William and Mary Ann Soles.

From the American connection I obtained photocopies of letters written by Edward Oscar, as he now called himself, to members of his family. He said he came to the USA in a ship called The Roscoe and that his father was born in Reading. His mother's maiden name was Mary Anne ORPIN, born in Cheltenham. A visit to the British Newspaper Museum at Collingwood, North London, enabled me to examine Lloyds Shipping Records. I soon found The Roscoe, and the dates of sailing from Liverpool and arrival at New York; the names of the Captain and Owners were also recorded.

A letter to the Maritime Museum at Greenwich enabled me to get a copy of the ship's first survey in 1838 at a cost of £1. I now had every detail of this Schooner. It was 70ft long, was 112 tons and had two sails. What a hazardous and unpleasant voyage the two brothers must have had; six weeks sailing in a small boat with no auxiliary engine, in February and March against the prevailing winds in the North Atlantic.

I now searched the census records in Birmingham Central Library for the years 1841, 1851, 1861 and 1871. I discovered Edward and William Soles in 1841 described as polishers (Edward called himself a sawmaker in the USA). I also found several SOLES, wire drawers by trade, born in Reading. It seemed to me that the SOLES family came from Reading to Birmingham somewhere about 1812 to 1815. The all took employment in the wire drawing trade and lived in the same small area of the city. A search of the Reading district Parish Registers revealed the baptisms of this SOLES family in the years around 1784.

I was interested to note that Edward Oscar's father, William, changed the spelling of SOULES to SOLES . He said he found it easier to spell that way. I have also found the name spelt SOALES, by a census enumerator.

In the period 1784 to 1930, I found only three SOLES wills and no Admins. My researches leave many questions unanswered. What happened to Edward's brother William in America? No one had any information until the time when Geraldine Soles of Woburn USA, sold the family home and moved to Florida. She sent me an old newspaper cutting which reported the death of William H. Soles aged 65, in the year 1888, who had lived in Arlington Avenue, near Woburn. This would give him a date of birth in 1823 ‑ Is he Edward Oscar's brother?

I have been unable to find William Soles marriage to Mary Ann Orpin or her birth in Cheltenham, or the death of William's parents in Reading or Birmingham. An interesting point to consider is Edward's second name, RIDLER, a most unusual forename. Perhaps he was named after a relative. A search of the Cheltenham parish registers did reveal one or two families with the surname RIDLER.

Can family history ever be finished?

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